The east of Belgium provides the unlikely setting for Chelsea’s first steps to redemption following two consecutive derby defeats. Since the comfortable 5-0 demolition of Genk two weeks ago the Blues have lost 1-0 at QPR and 5-3 at home to Arsenal in the Premier League and anything other than a win on Tuesday night could plunder the Blues into crisis.
This match day four encounter provides Chelsea with some welcome respite from the recent harrowing league experiences. Chelsea currently top group E with seven points, one ahead of nearest challengers Bayer Leverkusen. The Germans face a tricky tie in Valencia but should they win on the east coast of Spain Chelsea will qualify from the group with a win themselves. Even a draw in that game coupled with a win for the Blues would guarantee qualification and perhaps this would be the most favourable result as it would also put some breathing space between Leverkusen and us ahead of our trip to Germany in three weeks’ time.
Twenty Chelsea players have left for Belgium (although the team will actually be staying in Holland) including Nicolas Anelka, injured on Saturday. The previous game against Genk saw Fernando Torres given a run-out as he was in the middle of a domestic suspension; this one could see Didier Drogba feature as he remains suspended for Saturday’s trip to Blackburn because of his own red card picked up at Loftus Road. Meanwhile it would be no surprise to see David Luiz back in the fray, perhaps more for his offensive options against weak opposition than for his own defensive abilities. Another player who deserves a start on recent form is Oriol Romeu, excellent again in last Wednesday’s Carling Cup win at Everton and surely not far off a start in the league.
Manager Andre Villas-Boas has reiterated his desire to play attacking football with the aim still to outscore the opposition, rather than stopping them scoring at all, in the wake of Saturday’s humiliating defeat. A noble stance perhaps, but the Portuguese must take some important lessons from the defensive horror show on display at the Bridge. The high defensive line employed was frequently exposed by Arsenal’s rapid forward line and whilst AVB mused on how our poor finishing had cost us the game, he must not forget that Arsenal had missed two easy chances before we even took the lead. It also seems foolish of the manager to rely on our strikers scoring. Profligacy in front of goal has been a worrying trait of ours for nearly eighteen months and recent games against Manchester United, Valencia and QPR have all proved this. Saturday was a humbling experience for all concerned and the Chelsea supporters must be hoping that Villas-Boas has learnt from it and is able to display tactical flexibility which was perhaps beyond his predecessor.
Tomorrow’s opponents come into the game on the back of two contrasting results. On Wednesday they lost 0-2 at home to Lierse in the Confidis Cup, a game watched by just over 5,000 people and described by manager Mario Been as a ‘debacle’. On Saturday they participated in an even more remarkable game than Chelsea’s on the same day, coming back from 4-2 down with twenty minutes go to win 5-4 at Club Brugge, with rumoured Chelsea target Kevin de Bruyne scoring a glorious hat-trick. Having conceded nine goals between them on Saturday it will be no surprise to see more goals at the Cristal Arena on Tuesday night.
The 1,200 Chelsea supporters making the short trip across the Channel will be expecting nothing less than a victory on Tuesday as an urgent return to winning ways is sought ahead of the inevitably tough clash to follow at Ewood Park on Saturday. A clean sheet and a better conversion rate in front of goal would be the cherry on the cake.